World Health Assembly – the inside guide

Couldn’t make it to Geneva? Not a problem! Lifebox is here all week, following the global surgery conversation at #WHA68. Come borrow our delegate badge and hang out with us…


A greyer morning in Geneva – but that only makes our oximeter pop amongst the daisies! Leaving whimsy in the park though, because look at the journal: this is a day of serious subjects, ruthlessly scheduled – and wherever possible, translated. x 300

2015_May_WHA_WHO.Instagram_WHA01_229 x 425There were 261 delegates 62 countries at the inaugural assembly in 1948. Today there are more than 3000, traveling from 194 member states.  Every country has its own profile and complexity, but their delegations are here together representing the healthcare of billions. And the issues that make it to the table are the ones that affect us all.

(That’s not just rhetoric, it’s biology.  And bacteria.)

“We all paddle in the same microbial sea,” quoted Norway’s Bent Høie, in this morning’s side event on antimicrobial resistance, “and none of us can consider ourselves a safe island.”

Even scientists need a metaphor sometimes! And this favourite phrase of the AMR community is repeated and recontextualised as often as the “neglected stepchild of public health” is by global surgery advocates.

It brings home universal vulnerabilities – of our bodies, and also our tendencies to let politics overtake logistics. Even when we can least afford to let state lines dictate policy.

As part of our safe surgery mission, Lifebox has been looking closely at the risk of surgical site infection worldwide.  In hospitals across the 90 countries where we work, antimicrobial resistance is a concern, and so we’re all eyes on the action plan proposed.
“It’s not perfect,” says WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, to the packed room, “but it’s almost perfect. Now we’re asking you for three ‘A’s: advocacy, action, adoption – and then the work begins.

Coffee break! The Palais is a maze – take one wrong turn and you’re lost to your own corridor echoes – but follow the signs and you’ll find everyone (at the Serpentine Bar) here: x 300

The sea of new faces makes friendly ones friendlier, and it was nice to catch up with THET by the window. Their partnership model is a leading example of collaboration across state lines (and disciplines – they’ve been instrumental in supporting our work with oximetry distribution and the AAGBI/WFSA SAFE course across Zambia), and prospective partners can learn a lot from their resource library.

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But at the mushrooming round tables at the bar, new faces become friendly quickly. Especially if you’re lucky enough to sit down with the delegation from Burundi.

We’ve worked extensively in Rwanda to support safer surgery, but have only sent a few oximeters to its neighbour. Hopefully that’s about to change – the Burundian director general of public health has a clinical background and knows very well how difficult it is for healthcare workers – particularly in rural settings – to support their patients. Oximeters and safer surgery training can make a profound contribution.

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Good thing we’re dressed business-smart, because there’s no time to change. With Board and business signed off, tonight is the formal launch of the G4 Alliance.  Cheers to global surgery! And taking a stand against the issues that affect us all.



This week the World Health Assembly and Cannes Film Festival both turn 68. They may seem worlds apart – but swap the Palais des Nations for the Grand Théâtre Lumière, mountains for the sea and sensible shoes for high fashion, and there are some basic techniques will see you through both.

Wear your badge so people know you belong.

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Talk to everybody – you never know who you’re sitting next to, and how you can help each other.

Smile for the photo opportunities.2015_May_WHA_Ruben.Ayala_Operation.Smile_400 x 300


And believe in your mission – because everyone else is here with their project, and they’d much rather talk about their own work than yours.

And when the stakes are this high, you can’t afford for your voice to get lost.

The stakes for surgery at the WHA have never been as high as they are this week. For the first time in history, it’s not just a side event, it’s on the main agenda. EB136.R7, a formal resolution on “strengthening emergency and essential surgical care as a component of universal health coverage” is due for debate…

…some time this week. It’s a hefty schedule – and ’17. Systems Strengthening’ is sandwiched between ’16. Communicable Diseases’ and ’18. Progress Reports’, and it’s hard to say exactly when the pages turn. So the surgical tribe has its ear to the ground, ready to run to the the designated Committee Room at the first word.

An exciting atmosphere for Lifebox to land in! We settled into sunny Geneva Monday afternoon, joining our co-founder WFSA‘s delegation.

2015_May_WHA_Ambassador.Neil.Parsan_Trinidad.and.Tobago_400 x 300We were just in time to catch the end of the open sessions of the G4 Alliance board meeting. The G4 – Global Alliance for Surgical, Obstetric, Trauma and Anaesthesia Care, is an advocacy group wrapping a subtle grey and orange microphone around global surgery organisations – membership groups, charities, social enterprises – with an aim to turn up the volume on lobbying for access to surgery worldwide.

As the recent Lancet Commission on Global Surgery made clear, safety is an essential component of surgical access. So G4’s work, which has grown quickly and passionately in the last few months, is a vital complement to what we do.

It was a pleasure to settle in to a room full of friends – and family (with our co-founders HSPH, BWH and WFSA all involved – and a part of the writing on the wall!)

G4 is formally launching tomorrow, and we’re looking forward to another banner event in a brilliant month for global surgery.

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We also caught up with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA) on the way in, fresh from hearing Angela Merkel and a vital session on the Sustainable Development Goals. Representing a million students worldwide and with a WHA delegation second in size only to Russia’s, IFMSA are hard to miss, with a wicked sharp social media presence. Definitely one to follow if you’re looking to stay up to date with #WHA68.

As well as us, of course! Stay tuned for our first full day tomorrow…

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